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Controversial UWS Homeless Shelter to Downsize Under 4-Year City Contract

By Emily Frost | September 25, 2014 12:44pm | Updated on September 26, 2014 9:53am
 The shelter's operator was awarded a $16 million contract to continue providing services. 
Freedom House Shelter to Operate Through 2018
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A controversial homeless shelter that opened on West 95th Street in 2012 has been granted a $16 million contract to operate until 2018 — but it will be downsized to 200 beds and 100 units.

Under the contract, the shelter at 316 W. 95th St., known as Freedom House, will have only 200 beds, as opposed to the 400 beds it currently offers, according to City Comptroller Scott Stringer's Office and the Department of Homeless Services.

Freedom House was originally opened under what the Department of Homeless Services described as an "emergency" measure to fulfill its city-mandated obligation to house anyone in the city seeking shelter.

The shelter had been operated by nonprofit service provider Aguila, Inc. for a year without an official contract, before then-City Comptroller John Liu rejected DHS's bid for a five-year, $46.8 million contract in July 2013. Liu said the neighborhood was already carrying more than its fair share in terms of providing services to needy New Yorkers.

The new contract with Aguila, Inc. was awarded by DHS and registered with the city on Sept. 23 after a request-for-proposals process. The contract officially goes into effect on Nov. 1 and ends June 30, 2018, according to Stringer's Checkbook NYC site. 

This past April, DHS came to an agreement with Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to cut the shelter's population in half by Nov. 1, but the city has not elaborated on any details of its plan for where those individuals will go. 

Neither the Department of Homeless Services nor Aguila returned a request for comment. 

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal viewed the reduction in residents as a small victory, but said she's "disappointed that DHS has moved forward with the contract."

"I do believe the Upper West Side is oversaturated," she said. "[The shelter] should never have been sited in such a dense area across from a school." 

Residents, in particular the advocacy group Neighborhood in the Nineties, have argued that shelter residents contribute to an uptick in quality-of-life crimes. 

"We are still opposed to the shelter, but we look forward to reviewing the plans to see if this next version is better managed, and there is more communication with the community," said the group's president Aaron Biller.  

Their goal is still to "work towards the eventual closing of the shelter" because it hasn't been run well, he claimed. 

"They have to run the facilities better. They’re not running facilities, they’re running a warehouse," Biller continued. "Giving people some dignity produces a better outcome for the community and the individual."

The shelter has housed homeless residents with outstanding warrants, and in May the NYPD's 24th Precinct orchestrated an early-morning raid on the shelter in coordination with DHS, arresting 22 individuals with outstanding warrants.

After backlash from homeless advocates and a denouncement of the practice by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the precinct agreed not to continue the raids as initially planned.